Fraudsters aggressively targeting latest round of Economic Impact Payments, IRS warns

Colorado taxpayers need to be on guard against scams tied to the $600 stimulus payments the federal government recently issued, as well as ones associated with the upcoming tax filing season, the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division warns.

Although the schemes vary, they are designed to steal either personal information or actual money from unsuspecting victims. And criminals are using every means they can to trick people into giving up information — texts, emails, phone calls and social media.

“If the criminals can get enough information, they can intercept or hijack the Economic Impact Payments. We did see that with the first round,” said Andy Tsui, special agent in charge of the Denver field office for the IRS-CI.

Although most taxpayers have already received their payments via direct deposit, some are still anxiously awaiting the funds, leaving them more vulnerable when a pitch arrives promising an expedited delivery or extra money, said Amy Nofziger, a fraud expert with AARP Colorado.

Large-scale phishing schemes try to get people to hand over their personally identifiable information or financial account information, while targeted texts ask people to disclose bank account information so payments can move forward, Tsui said.

Even before the pandemic, scammers posing as IRS agents were calling individuals threatening them with fines and arrest for made-up violations. Often they demanded payment via gift cards, always a red flag and something that Tsui said IRS criminal investigators do not ever request.

“The thing we know is that the scammers follow the headlines like the rest of us do. They know when there will be millions of dollars handed out to anxious people and they will take any opportunity to try and steal from people,” Nofziger said.

Congress is expected to approve an additional $1,400 in Economic Impact Payments to qualifying individuals in the coming weeks. That will likely trigger another round of fraudulent solicitations, the experts warn.

Those still waiting can check the status of their stimulus payments on the IRS Get My Payment website. They should not go to any other website promising to provide information on a specific payment.

Nofziger said some tax preparation firms provide their bank accounts as the destination for deposits and taxpayers shouldn’t immediately assume their funds have been diverted if an unfamiliar account shows up on the IRS website.  Some payments are also showing up on debit cards in nondescript envelopes and people should be careful to not toss those mailers away, something that was happening this summer.

AARP has also received complaints from people who didn’t receive stimulus payments because another person claimed them as a dependent on the most recent tax return without them knowing about it, Nofziger said.

COVID-19 scams should be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submitted online through the NCDF Web Complaint Form. Unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS can be forwarded to [email protected].

Tsui said organized crime rings, including some based overseas, are behind many of the scams involving Economic Impact Payments and consumers should not engage with potential scammers online or on the phone.

The AARP ElderWatch Colorado helpline at 1-800-222-4444 is also a resource that can help older adults sort out the solicitations they receive and provide directions on how to safely check the status of a stimulus payment, Nofziger said.

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